Rabbi Mordechai Willig
A Good Eye
You shall love your fellow as yourself (Vayikra 19:18). "R' Akiva said, ‘This is a great rule in the Torah'" (Rashi). Perhaps R' Akiva's statement is a reaction to the tragic loss of his 24,000 talmidim who perished between Pesach and Atzeres (Shavuos) because they did not [sufficiently] honor one another (Yevamos 62b) [See Veahavta Le-Raiacha Kamocha - (ADD LINK TO 1999/moadim/rwil_sefira.html)]. However, love and honor are two different concepts, as the Gemara (ibid.) teaches regarding a husband's attitude towards his wife (ohaiv, mechabed).
A somewhat different version of the death of R' Akiva's disciples is found in the Medrash (B'reishis Raba 61:3): "R' Akiva had twelve thousand disciples from Gabbath to Antipatris, and all died at the same period. Why? Because they looked grudgingly (eineihem tzara) at each other. Eventually he raised seven disciples… Said he: My sons, the previous ones died only because they grudged each other [the knowledge of] the Torah; see to it that you do not act thus. They therefore arose and filled the whole of Eretz Yisrael with Torah."
Grudging reflects a lack of love, and can even lead to hatred (Etz Yosef). The prohibitions of hating and grudging precede the commandment of loving (Vayikra 19:17,18). If, as the Medrash states, and Etz Yosef explains, R' Akiva's students violated these prohibitions, then, indeed, loving one's fellow is a great rule in the Torah.
The literal translation of eineihem tzara, grudging, is that their eyes were narrow. With a narrow look, one sees the faults of another, and grudges his successes. When people's eyes are not narrow towards one another, people appear nice to one another (Rashi, B'reishis 41:2).
Generally, when there is abundance, people's eyes are not narrow towards one another, and they appear nice to one another. Thus, the description of seven cows as beautiful was interpreted by Yosef as seven years of plenty (Mizrachi).
In this year of financial downturn, a special effort must be made to avoid grudging the successes of others. When one looks with wide eyes, he sees the whole picture, including the positive attributes of his fellow. Then his fellow appears nice to him, and he loves him instead of grudging or hating him.
Unfortunately, grudging exists in the spiritual realm as well. This seems to be the case regarding R' Akiva's talmidim who grudged each other the knowledge of Torah. When his later students did not grudge each other, they were able to fill all of Eretz Yisrael with Torah. Torah can be accepted only when there is unity (Rashi Shemos 19:2). The term Atzeres, which refers to Shavuos (Onkelos Bamidbar 28:26), means gathering (29:35). Only when R' Akiva's students avoided grudging and achieved unity could Torah be properly disseminated.
Spiritual grudging can rise to the level of hatred of others, and even of Hashem (Sha'arei T'shuva 3:160):
And they are certainly enemies of God if they act upon their thoughts and deter others from occupying themselves with Torah and with mitzvos. The same applies to those who are envious of the honor accorded honest, righteous Torah scholars and hate their crown of glory…Much more so when they seek to shame them or lower them.
Our great Torah leaders, starting with Moshe Rabbeinu, taught the opposite of spiritual grudging. A rebbe should be happy when others achieve spiritual greatness, even if they will no longer need him. "Would that the entire people of Hashem be prophets" (Bamidbar 11:29), and not receive prophecy from me but from Hashem (Ramban).
The Torah [referring to pilpul] was given only to Moshe and his descendants. But Moshe showed generosity (tovas ayin) and gave it to Am Yisrael (Nedarim 38a). Moshe shared the Divine methodology with all of Am Yisrael (Maharsha). Thereby, they would be independent of him and his descendants.
Great efforts must be made to have a good eye in spiritual matters as well. The accomplishments, and resultant honor, of Torah scholars and leaders should be viewed positively by other Torah scholars and the general population. We must all learn from the tragedy of R' Akiva's students, and avoid grudging and hatred of, and between, Torah scholars. When looking with a good eye, these scholars, like all Jews, will appear nice even if some faults exist. Our response to the spiritual successes of others, as to their financial ones, should be happiness borne of generosity of spirit, and not jealousy or hatred based on grudging.
We observe a measure of mourning during Sefira because R' Akiva's students died. (Orach Chaim 493:1). Why? So we should distance ourselves from hatred, jealousy, desire, arrogance and honor, and acquire love, humility and peace. Those learning Torah should be especially careful to love one another (Kaf Hachayim 5).
The Maharil explains that the reason we are joyous on Lag Ba'Omer is that the students of R' Akiva stopped dying. This explanation is problematic. They stopped dying because they had all already died! Is this a cause for joy? The answer is that we rejoice because the later students of R' Akiva did not die (Pri Chodosh 2). To rejoice properly we must emulate those later students by not grudging one another and by spreading Torah.
Indeed, with respect to Torah and its scholars, "You should love your neighbor as yourself" is a great rule, as R' Akiva taught.